Let’s begin this frankly: take your so-called self-discovery and shove it up your ass.
This isn’t a manifesto, this isn’t a love letter, this isn’t a proclamation. This is a confession.
When I left Salt Lake in January the smog was too thick to see a stop sign 6 feet in front of you. The ride to the airport was dark and the roads were empty, we listened to the same album we always did, we hugged with the same intensity we always had. And just like that I set out on the longest year of my life, without a hand to hold or a cell phone to fondle I landed in Lima with no plan and no return ticket.
What happened next I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to fit into the alphabet. Nothing looked the way movies had made it seem and I didn’t manage to uncover a forgotten kingdom of the Aztec people, but what I discovered while aimlessly trekking around the world was that people, everywhere you go, are people.
That’s not much of a discovery. I heard that in third grade on Gilligan’s Island, I’ve read the concept in everything written by Hemingway and Vonnegut. It’s an idea that features prominently in any movie that refuses to let you hate the villain, every painting of a less than beautiful woman. It’s the ancient idea that at the end of the day none of us are more than our mothers made us.
This isn’t the discovery of any self, I’ve known I was a person since I went the first day of second grade with my fly down. This is a discovery that enhances comfort in that humanness. The glory of everyone being just people is that no matter if you find them in the dunes outside Ica or in the mansions of Martha’s Vineyard there’s bound to be someone who’s got a soft spot for idiots like you.
I learned this when two women we met at a cafe in Antofagasta insisted on driving us 90 km into the Atacama desert just to show us the strangeness of the place. These women fed us the first good meal we’d had in two months and let us sleep in their beach-side apartment overlooking the stunning Chilean cliffs. They had seen their foolish daughters in us and thought they would be hopelessly worried about their children if they were silly enough to hike through South America with no money. So they gave us a safe place to stay and asked simply that years down the road we do the same. I kept forgetting that I wasn’t related to these people. I kept forgetting that they had no reason to be so kind, so giving, so happy to have us there for just a moment. They saw their adventurous daughters in us, we saw our worried mothers in them.
While backpacking through Torres del Paine I was again witness to the goodness of people when a Patagonian park ranger insisted on showing us how to climb in the world famous El Chalten. Within days of meeting we were on a bus to Argentina and he was attempting to re-teach me Spanish. We ended up camping in the snow for five days whittling our own utensils and growing delirious as our noses turned blue. We found that we all got along rather well and that there were plenty of backpacking tips to exchange and low cost cooking tricks to borrow.
Later in the year I found another person in the tiny town of Healy at the end of his Alaskan summer season willing to house a friend and I for the night. We ended up staying up late swapping stories like we’d always known each other. I watched the Aurora from his back porch and the next day he called in a few favors to get us on a very discounted flight over Denali on a clear day.
Everywhere I went I found them: people just as much a person as you and I. There was a truck driver in Arica ready to interpret my rough language skills in order to waste half his day helping us find our way south. And a German couple that helped us carry water two miles up a hill to the abandoned house we were squatting in for a few weeks. An American driving from Tierra de Fuego to Alaska in a Kombi that was more than happy to celebrate the birthday of a stranger and somehow despite knowing nothing about her, made her feel like she was exactly what she should be. There was a couple I stayed with for three weeks in Philadelphia that lent me books and took me to their favorite secret graveyards and underrated museums. Sometime in October I ended up seated in a breakfast joint outside Lancaster sharing a table with a 93-year-old woman who reminded me to ignore anyone trying to tell me what to do. Just last week a person on the Manhattan subway picked up a dollar I dropped and handed it back to me.
This year I found myself in several frightening situations. I witnessed again and again the embarrassing cruelty of people, the inescapable corruption of a desperate man. Everywhere I found myself I saw people. People begging on street corners or scamming me out of the last forty dollars in my pocket. I saw people; holding the door open for an elderly women then needlessly cussing out their hyper son. Bearing their testimony of the Atonement then forgetting to forgive their child’s impulsiveness. People falling in love with the wrong people and people wasting most of their food and people buying strangers dinner and people too high to care and people too happy to speak and people too sad to look.
I was once a 19-year-old girl who dropped out of college and bought a one way plane ticket to Peru. Luckily at that point I had read enough books to know that self-discovery is not something you get when you leave everything on a whim. What the Motorcycle Diaries and On the Road had warned me of was that if I went out into the world I’d mostly find people. And people are what I found; funny how we never seem to learn the lessons we’ve read about until the world beats them into us.
Everywhere from the magnificent backcountry of Patagonia to the houses I cleaned in Spanish Fork I met people with that innate understanding that we’re all the same amount lost and the same amount loveable.
My confession? I’m a person. I got tired of failing spelling tests in fourth grade and wrote the answers very small on the inside of my ring finger. I’ve abandoned friends when they needed me, I’ve taken what wasn’t mine, I’ve abused myself and my mothers carpeting. I’ve pretended to be bigger, smarter, and harsher than I really am. And I’ve done my best to forgive who I can and to lend what I have.
When I left Salt Lake in January I intended to go out into the world and take claim of the self I had always dreamed of, but as you surely know: when we muster the guts to claim ourselves rarely will the selves we gather be whole.
As a person we are forever incomplete without people. If you do not admit to being the fractured self you are you miss out on loving the fractured selves that make up the good and bad of the world. Knowing people are people enables trust and mercy, and after everything that’s happened this year I believe there is nothing more valuable than trust and mercy.
So to hell with self-discovery, you’re you and that’s the best you can hope for. What is worth discovering ten thousand times over in your lifetime is people. Some sort of selves-discovery; the continually renewed realization that the human experiment is bigger than you and your neighborhood.
So here’s to my disaster and here’s to yours. Here’s to loneliness, here’s to companionship. Here’s to being a person and to being people. Here’s to 2017 and the disasters that await us in 2018.